Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Reflection in the Mirror

Two recent surveys indicate that today's youth and young adults are more driven by material desires than previous generations. When asked what makes up their most important goals, over 80% of 18 - 25 years said getting rich was goal numero uno.

Am I surprised and shocked by this supposed revelation? Get real. There's nothing shocking about it all. I wouldn't even consider it breaking news.

The only real surprise is who some believe is the chief culprit -- parents. One psychologist said his research indicates that "when adjusted for inflation, parents are spending 500% more on kids today than just one generation earlier."

While I certainly won't argue that parents play a role in this changing dynamic, they are as much a victim in this rising sea of materialism as their children.

For me, the two prime culprits are the fused cousins of Christianity and capitalism. Both of these systems teach people that our worth as human beings is determined by our wealth as consumers and captains of industry. The more a person can accumulate, the more a person can control their own earthly destiny and get a better seat in heaven near the Big Guy.

It is a theme of separation. As isolated beings, our main concern is ourselves. How much can I get? How much status and power can I command? How much pleasure can I enjoy?

This is the explicit and subliminal message we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Therefore, since youth are mirrors of the overarching messages of society, is it any wonder that more and more young people crave riches?

I believe there's another dynamic here as well. Over the last two decades, particularly in the United States, the social safety net has been ripped to shreds and tossed aside. Far too many working families are struggling to keep up. Our children are learning that middle class status doesn't always mean access to quality health care or opportunities to attend college. These are the kinds of things the previous generation often took as a given.

The only way future adults will be able to guarantee these sorts of things for themselves and their children is by being financially well off. So, it stands to reason that obtaining wealth would be a chief goal.

If society wishes to reverse this trend, Taoism offers an easy way out of this materialistic quagmire. Since Taoists emphasize the interconnection of all things, this insatiable drive to feed the "I" is replaced with the desire to ensure the well-being of "All".

When the universe as a whole is our framework, materialistic goals simply don't mean much of anything.

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